The Long-Running Debate Over Selling Human Bones Has Made it to TikTok

Ethical debates, meet social media

It's an issue with a lot to ponder.
Mathew Schwartz/Unsplash

Would you ever buy human bones? Yes, that’s a jarring question, but it’s also one that’s implicit in a long-running ethical debate which overlaps with social media every few years. There’s long been a debate over the sales of human remains, but so too has there been a demand for them. Colin Dickey’s book Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius offers a good overview of the historic roots of this practice.

It’s also a practice that’s endured to the present day — though it maintains a tenuous position with respect to the internet. Five years ago, BuzzFeed News reported that eBay has decided to end the ability of its users to sell human skulls. A year earlier, a listing for human bones on Facebook prompted a furious debate on Tumblr regarding the ethics of such a sale and the issues of race and class that were bound up in it.

The latest instance of social media and human skull sales developed via TikTok. At The Washington Post, Caroline Anders reported on the controversies that have surrounded Jon Pichaya Ferry, known on TikTik as JonsBones. Ferry is wildly popular on the platform, but the bones used as decor in his home and his business selling bones have both prompted pushback from some, accusing him of being engaged in an unethical line of work.

According to the article, Ferry has said that all of the bones he sells were originally used for medical training purposes. But there’s a difference between donating one’s body to science and donating one’s body to be potentially used as a living room decoration. As Carleton University’s Shawn Graham told the Post, “[C]ertainly not a single one of these people ever consented to their bodies being treated this way or being bought and sold like this.”

The current discourse over Ferry’s social media presence might not move either side in the debate — but it does suggest that whatever the next big social media platform will be will have its own version of this discussion in a few years.

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